You Are A Mashup Of What You Let Into Your Life

from the so-true dept

Aaron DeOliveira alerts us to a wonderful presentation by writer/artist/poet Austin Kleon called Steal Like an Artist. It’s a little less than 8 minutes, but worth watching:

There’s a lot in there that will sound familiar if you’re a regular reader, but it goes over the simple fact that content creators always build on the works of those they come across, whether on purpose or not. There were two lines that really caught my attention. The first was this one:

You are a mashup of what you let into your life.

We keep hearing from people who seem to think that the only “real” art is art that is wholly original. And, yet, they can’t point out anything that really is original. All art builds on the works of others. There’s simply no getting around that. The second line that caught my attention:

Imitation is not flattery. It’s transformation that is flattery.

I’m not sure I agree with that statement, but it made me think. I actually believe imitation may very much be a form of flattery, and furthermore that imitation very often is what leads to transformation. In many cases the first step of transformation is, in fact, imitation. But I fear the situations where we make it illegal to imitate in large part because without being able to imitate, we often lose the ability to transform and build and create something special.

I’d never heard of Kleon before, but it appears that this presentation is a short version of a longer talk that he’s actually turning into a book. Should be an interesting one to watch out for.

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Comments on “You Are A Mashup Of What You Let Into Your Life”

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Greevar (profile) says:

“I actually believe imitation may very much be a form of flattery, and furthermore that imitation very often is what leads to transformation.”

Imitation isn’t really the right word, I think. It’s actually emulation. When we idolize or admire what others do, we emulate that and try to be like them. So the phrase should actually be “Emulation is the most sincere form of flattery”.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The truth is culture isn’t created by everybody doing something new and original, it’s created by everybody doing something very similar. Once enough artists all start doing the same kind of thing, it becomes a movement and that can cause a cultural shift. Very often, one person is singled out as inspiring or leading the change with their originality, but often they were just one of many doing the same thing. Yes, everyone does their thing a little different, but collectively they’re working on the same idea. It’s a million variations on one idea. That’s what makes it art and what makes art part of culture.

Otherwise the world would only have one painting, one statue, one song, one movie, and one novel, because to create a second would just be imitation.

Honestly, if you listen to baroque music and you’re not a fan, it all sounds like the same piece of music. What’s the real difference in all of Bach’s cantatas or Scarlatti’s sonatas? I love classical music, but even those works all sound the same to me.

Art benefits from repetition, emulation, imitation, reiteration – that’s the process of what art is all about. It’s a great conversation.

Liz (profile) says:

“We stand on the shoulders of giants…”

The Greek myth of Orion and the Dwarf leads to a quote by Isaac Newton. We continue to build upon that which came before us. Imitation isn’t just a lead to creativity, but a key process in learning.

If people can’t imitate, then they end up reinventing the wheel anyway. Then those people who are truly innovative end getting penalized for copying the older ideas, even if they hadn’t. Progress stagnates and everyone loses out.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, but we don’t steal the shoulders and claim them as our own.

No, Bob Dylan, we don’t.

The only folks who do tend to be the copyright maximalists themselves…because, gosh darn it, when they steal the shoulders and claim them as their own, they should be the only ones. Comes with the massive sense of entitlement they seem to all have.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

>> Yeah, but we don’t steal the shoulders and claim them as our own.

Yes, a lot of people value attribution and dislike being fooled (as fans) or not given credit (as artists).

Although, if you look at one of Nina’s copyright memes, she points out that trying to take credit likely leads you to looking foolish or dishonest eventually.

Fickelbra (profile) says:

I think a great example of transformation is just in the entire video game market. Games can generally “copy” gameplay features from each other, and no one makes a stink. Take a look at first person shooters and the fact that after Halo 2 did the recharging health, virtually every shooter after that used it (much to my disdain but I digress). I’ve never seen Bungie whine about it, and really they shouldn’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

In it, students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they’ve surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness. …

After a semester of my forcibly suppressing a student’s “creativity” by making her plagiarize and transcribe, she will tell me how disappointed she was because, in fact, what we had accomplished was not uncreative at all; by not being “creative,” she had produced the most creative body of work in her life. By taking an opposite approach to creativity?the most trite, overused, and ill-defined concept in a writer’s training?she had emerged renewed and rejuvenated, on fire and in love again with writing.

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